Crockpot Dyeing

I spent a good part of the summer figuring out ways to dye wool in my crockpot.   I know that the oven dyeing method that I have been using will allow me to dye more wool at once, so there is more efficiency in terms of scale, but it takes a great deal more space and it means that no one else can use the oven while I’m dyeing wool.  Because I need to schedule my dyeing around when other people want to use the oven, I am able to do it less frequently.  With the crockpot I can only do about 4 ounces of wool at a time, but the only space I’m using is the tiny footprint that the crockpot takes up on the counter.  I can dye much more frequently, so the result is a higher level of production.   It’s one of those “slower by the hour, but faster by the week” things, like spindle spinning versus wheel spinning.

 

I documented a lot of these experiments on my Facebook page this summer. I figured it was time to get some of them written up into a more sensible format as blog posts.

In essence this is a form of low water immersion dyeing. The unpredictable results are one of the features of this dyeing method.  When I dye in trays I lay the tops out in neat rows and can apply the dye very precisely exactly where I want it. When I dye in the crockpot I need to be able to fit the wool in one layer at the bottom of the crockpot. To do this, I pack the top into the bottom of the crockpot by pleating it.

This acts as a natural resist and prevents the dye from reaching all the way down to the bottom or inside the folds in some places. I can control this effect to a degree by how much liquid is in the crockpot.

I choose colors that I know will create something reasonably attractive in the finished product, and instead of mixing all of the colors of dye together for one solid color I sprinkle them randomly over the surface of the wool so that individual colors stand out and combine in different ways. If I want more dye penetration and less white space, I add more water to the crockpot.

Yarn that is spun from tops dyed with this random crockpot dyeing method still have some variation in color, but the transitions between colors are much smoother and more gradual with little to no striping.

Individual spots of color that blend together as fibers in the yarn give the impression of a solid color due to optical blending while at the same time giving greater visual depth to the yarn.

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Things to do in the dark

Being without power for extended periods of time means finding things you can do in poor light.  I can spin pretty well in the dark, and I don’t usually have to look too hard at my knitting if it isn’t something too complicated.  Unfortunately the knitting project I was working on when the power went out was these:

Not really something I could work on in the dark!  I managed to finish them the day after the power came back on.


I really needed something completely mindless, so I decided to knit swatches! I had two full-sized skeins and two samples in different colorways.  I decided a while ago that I wanted to post photos of knitted sample in my Fiberarts Etsy, because there’s so often such a big difference in what a multicolored yarn looks like in the skein and how it knits up.  How many times have you had a multicolored yarn that you loved in the skein, but that you really just didn’t like in the knitted object?  

The same thing happens in reverse all the time – you see some knitting with colors that you love, then see the yarn it was knitted with, and think “I would never have pictured this yarn coming out like that!”

Spinners experience this all the time.  See how bright and almost garish the different colors look in the unspun wool?  The colors become much less intense in the finished yarn because of the the blending that occurs during spinning.  Because of this blending, it can be hard to see from the yarn that it will create subtle stripes when it’s knitted up.

The striping is more prominent in the first example because I used colors with strong contrast. In this second example the colors are much more closely related, both in hue and value.  Here, you don’t get strong stripes so much as a subtle shading.

Of course, the final effect will always depend on the size of your knitting.  Smaller projects like socks will end up with much wider and more prominent stripes.  Sweaters and shawls will have narrower stripes – sometimes maybe only one row before the color changes enough to be noticeable!  Still, it’s always nice to at least have a ballpark idea of what a yarn is going to do before you plan your project.

A different kind of dyeing experiment

Having spent the bulk of the summer working on painted roving, I decided to try a different method for achieving Color in Yarn.  Painted rovings are fun to spin, and they can be a lot of fun to knit with, but solids are nice as well.  Plus, I have a lot of raw fleece that I can’t process into roving at home, and I need to find something to do with it.

Rather than mix my chosen color and then dye the wool, I decided to dye the wool in the individual base colors I use, then blend them together in the proportions called for in that color formula.  Say I started with 100g of fiber – if my “recipe” was 68% color A, 20% color B, and 12% color C, I’d use 68g of wool dyed in A, 20g in B and 12 in C, and blend the individual colors.  This process takes advantage of optical blending, in much the same way pointillism does.  It creates the appearance of a solid color, but with greater depth and interest, especially when seen from up close.

Here’s what I did.  I weighed out the fiber for individual colors into gallon zipper freezer bags (labelled, so I would know what color went in which bag), added a solution of water and Synthropol (a surfactant to ensure the fiber wets out evenly), and let the wool sit for a couple of hours.  Then one bag at a time, I carefully removed the wool and added the appropriate  amount of dye & other chemical assists, then returned the wool to the bag.  I found it important to remove the wool before adding the dye, otherwise most of the color would end up in one spot on the wool, rather than evenly dispersed.

I then put the plastic bags full of wool/dye in a large stockpot with a rack at the bottom, and filled the stockpot with water.  I slowly heated up the water bath, monitoring the temperature with one of those nifty probe thermometers that provides a constant readout, and kept it at about 180F for about two hours, then left the bags to cool to room temperature in the water bath.

When they had cooled, I rinsed the wool and hung it to dry, then blended the separate colors on my drum carder.

It spins up into a wonderfully lofty DK/Worsted weight 2ply!  I’m very pleased with the results!  One of the things I like about this process is that it allows me to turn what would normally be a flaw into a “design element.”  This particular fleece is fairly fine, and despite my best handling is prone to neps.  These little clumps of fiber are generally considered undesirable in an undyed or solid colored yarn, but when the colors are dyed before being blended, the neps make nice little flecks of color in the finished yarn that I find I rather like!

My next question in this process:  Do I card the wool before or after the dyebath?  If I dye before, the fiber gets a little compacted by the process, and I need one or two more passes through the carder than I would otherwise.  On the other hand, if I dye after, I still need to do almost as much carding, but would no longer have the choice between very thorough blending (as in the example here) or a streakier, less uniform batt.  If I wanted that effect I would have to card all the colors separately anyway, so would it really save that much time?  I’ll work on that idea on my next round!